Organization Made Easy: Ideas for Running a More Orderly Small Business

by Taylor Sisk, Staples® Contributing Writer

You knew the importance of being well organized when you went into business, and you’ve done a pretty good job of it. But there’s always room for improvement, right? Here are some solid tips from a few experts to help bring even more order to your work.

Find a Home — for Everything

Knowing the location of something you need saves time. Perhaps just minutes a day, but it adds up. According to a 2010 survey conducted by Brother International Corporation, the average employee spends 76 hours a year looking for misplaced items in the office and on the computer. That’s approximately $177 billion in lost productivity.

Maria Spetalnik, founder of Conquer the Clutter in the Washington, DC area, says an important first step is to find a place for your paperwork to live. Many of her clients make the mistake of letting bills and other documents pile up on their desks and then shifting them around to accommodate additional clutter.

“Create a place where you always put your financial docs prior to payment,” Spetalnik says. “This location should also have everything you need to make the payment. For example, if you make your payments by check, you would have not only the bills but also the checkbook, envelopes, stamps and return address stickers in the same basket or box. This way, when you’re ready to pay bills, you take down the whole basket, pay the bills, file away the paid bills and put the basket back.”

Investing in desk organizers and storage and organization products will help you keep your workspace and files in order.

Stick with a System

Angie Mattson Stegall, a business coach who operates Charlotte, NC–based Your Organized Guide, is a big advocate for keeping only the current year’s accounts receivable and accounts payable files close at hand. These include invoices, bills paid, profit-and-loss statements, balance sheets, canceled checks, credit card and loan statements, and insurance policies that renew yearly. Then file the rest away.

“In keeping the files neat, some bookkeepers simply have 12 files, January through December,” Stegall says. Everything received and paid goes into that file, and you can keep a separate tickler file for bills that need to be paid. Use this method with hanging files or an accordion file with tabs for each month. Others prefer to keep records by vendor, with each bill paid being kept in the appropriate vendor’s file.

At the end of the year, Stegall suggests “adding last year's legal and financial documents to a banker’s box for lots of paperwork or bigger small businesses, or into an accordion file for a solopreneur — because archiving keeps files neat, well labeled and well ordered, year in and year out.”

To avoid late fees, Spetalnik suggests setting aside regular time to ensure you get your bills paid on schedule. “Once a week usually works well for a small business,” she says.

Use that allotted time to also do payroll and any other financial tasks. Again, your time is valuable, so minutes saved add up.

In the Clouds

Scanning important documents is a great way to reduce clutter in the office. All you need is a portable scanner.

You can then keep track of your records and retrieve what you need using document management software or Google Drive, depending on your business needs. You might even want to check out a free contract-management software called Cloudtract. It sends you an alarm when one of your contracts is about to expire.

Mayer Dahan, founder and CEO of Prime Five Homes, a green real estate development company in Los Angeles, CA, no longer deals with hard copies. “To keep the process moving quickly, I scan and copy all of my files, images and paperwork to a computer and the cloud,” he says.

Of course, make sure you back up your files regularly, and keep them secure with password-protected and encrypted cloud or other network storage. Having it all so accessible, Dahan says, “is a huge time saver.”

The Right Fit

What’s most important is that you select tools and strategies that suit your specific needs. “Some people can go all digital. Some have to use paper. Neither is right and neither is wrong,” Spetalnik says. “It has to be what works for you.”

She urges you to take a good look at the habits you already have or are willing to adopt, and then find the system that best syncs up with them.

“Money spent does not mean organization achieved,” she continues. “There are a lot of fancy systems out there for handling paperwork of all kinds. A lot of our clients will invest in a system that they are hoping will solve all of their problems but which winds up just being clutter.”

So the bottom line is that you have to find what will work best for you, your employees and your company.

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